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End of a busy day, when it would be good to have a confit de canard* up the sleeve, so to speak.

What to cook for dinner?

There’s the leftover pearl barley “risotto” with asparagus–which Meredith had found unremarkable the other night–and the unpromising broccoli I bought this morning, in the fridge.

Well there’s something to be said for starting with low expectations and being pleasantly surprised–so…

Risotto rissoles and sautéed broccoli?

The rissoles had a tendency to fall apart but the broccoli..!

1lb/450gm broccoli–cut into bite size pieces

4 tbs olive oil

2 cloves garlic–chopped small

3 tbs parsley–chopped

salt and pepper

  • Steam the broccoli until just tender and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold the broccoli in a single layer.
  • Sauté the garlic for a few seconds until it starts to turn color.

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  • Add the broccoli and the parsley and season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir fry for a couple of minutes over a medium heat–coating the broccoli thoroughly in the garlicky oil.
  • If the broccoli singes a little in the process–all the better!
  • You may wish, like us, that you’d made more!

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*Preserved duck leg–a local specialty and quick to prepare, as it is already cooked and preserved in duck fat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hoop-hoop-oeray!

Hoop, hoop–oeray!

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This fine fellow flashed through my sightline at lunch with our friends George and Hilary today.

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In mid-conversation I caught a glimpse of the headdress outside the window at the back of the house and it was gone before I could say: “There’s a hoopoe!

Nobody would have believed me, anyway.

Hoopoes are well known for their shyness and we have never seen one near the house.

On the tarmac outside and once in the garden, rising vertically like a helicopter to the nearest tree branch but–my word–never this close!

Back from tropics, it’s their time of year and it always thrills me to see them again.

Then Meredith says, with an intake of breath from the opposite end of the table: “Look! Look! There’s a hoopoe at the window, trying to get in!”

I turn slowly and face the courtyard.

There is this exotic creature hovering at the window–appearing to knock on the pane with its long beak–”let me in, let me in!”

Where’s the camera? Can you try? Oh my word!

Meredith finds the camera and gingerly opens the front door. The flustered creature, now at another door, obligingly turns its head and stays put long enough for Meredith to capture this shot.

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Why was he/she trying to get inside?

Will it be back tomorrow?

On verra!

 

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Every time we drive to our nearby town of Castres, we pass this beautiful building–and wonder what was goes on inside.

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This week Robin & I found out!

[This is a Guest Post by Meredith--wife, Photographer, Taster-in-Chief.]

We were invited for a special tour of the historic Collège Jean Jaurès by one of the English teachers–who first bumped into Robin buying cheese at the open air market.

Jean Jaurès is one of France’s most famous politicians. He was assassinated 100 years ago in Paris for trying to prevent World War I from breaking out. A pacifist, he was also opponent of the death penalty and a supporter of the maligned Dreyfus. Many French towns honor his memory with a rue, avenue or place Jean Jaurès.

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Jaurès was born in Castres and attended this school where he was reportedly a brilliant student.

(It was renamed in his honor in 1924.)

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It is one of the oldest secondary schools in France, established in 1574.

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These young students of English were challenged with guiding their Anglophone guests around the landmark building.

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At collège, they range in age from 11 to 15.

They were enthusiastic guides!

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This [below]  is the former chapel and medieval tower topped with a bell, viewed from the playground.

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Inside,  it’s a gynasium! The young people have gym twice a week.

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A poster on the gym wall promoting fair play, no racism, inclusiveness, no drug-taking.

IMG_3066In the inspiring ART room, versions of Jean Jaurès portraits were on display.

 

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The students have Art class once a week (and they would like more!). We could see why.

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We couldn’t miss out on an English language classroom.

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Impressive!

We also stopped by lunch room.

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Robin was interested to see the weekly lunch MENU posted. Looked delicious!

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In the library and media center, posters discussed food, cooking and how to avoid wasting food.

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The young people have their own student lounge.

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In honor of English guests, the tour ended with a cup of tea…

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We learned a lot on our first day in a French school!

Merci to Madame Henriette Courtade and the students at College Jean Jaurès.

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We first tasted this dip in Gail Zweigenthal’s apartment overlooking Central Park when we were in New York recently.

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She had generously invited us–two strangers–to dinner with our mutual friend, Francia White.

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Gail was Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine from 1991 to 1998, where this recipe originated.

Six simple ingredients plus seasoning make this a dip-in-a-flash.

In fact seven–Meredith thought a squeeze of lime or lemon juice would be good.

(The nod to tapinade comes with the capers; caper in Provençal patois is tapinas.)

1 can artichoke hearts (200gm/7oz)–drained
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove–mashed with a pinch of salt
1/2 cup green olives–pitted 
2 tsps capers
3 tbs parsley–chopped 
juice of half a lime
  • Put the ingredients in a food processor and whizz it to a rough smoothness–i.e., leaving a little texture.
  • Add salt and fresh ground pepper–adjusting the seasoning to taste.
  • Serve as Gail did on the fennel slices or toast with a dribble of olive oil.

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First day’s filming today, on the NEW POLDARK.

The twittersphere is alive with anticipation as the cast and crew embark on the journey.

I’m looking forward to joining the caravan in May.

Jacqueline, make-up supremo, emailed this morning with ideas and images (facial hair!) and I’m already experiencing moments of anxiety about my first day.

First days are fraught.

My first day at my pre-prep school, aged 4, I left the school mid-morning and walked home– a mile at least.

A couple of days later, I’d fallen in love with beautiful Miss Rosemary and nothing could keep me away–much to my mother’s relief.

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From my memoir, Making Poldark, the first day’s filming in 1975 –a typical spring day in Cornwall:

It was bitterly cold and dank.

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Another bitterly cold and dank day!

We were in Towednack churchyard near St. Ives. I remember it well.

Contrary to rumour, I was born without a scar–so on went the first scar of many, made unromantically of glue; on went the make-up and the back-piece of hair.

My hair had been dyed darker with copper tints for the part.

I put on my black mourning coat–the scene was Uncle Charles’ funeral–and my specially-made boots and there I was: Captain Ross Poldark.

But as the day wore on and they still didn’t get to my bit, I began to wonder. I saw the director looking worried and thought at first it must be the weather.

Then I thought maybe it’s my hair, then my scar, then my FACE.

Then I thought: my God, it’s ME!

They don’t want ME!

They think they’ve made a mistake. They’re re-casting–the lines are hot to London and actors are streaming into the producer’s office with the sun in their eyes–it was fine in London–and they’re all Olympic equestrians.

Robin, will you come to the graveside please?’

Of course, I’ve got it–I mean–of course I will.’

I’d started at last.

 

Good luck to Aidan and Eleanor and everyone–(me included)!

 

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That was then!

The BBC have just announced the news–Mammoth Screen have offered me a cameo in their new production of Poldark.

Poldark has brought much joy to my life–I’ve often called them Poldark Perks–which doesn’t do them justice.

It continues to deliver.

I am delighted to be invited to play a role in the new venture which has got off to a flying start with superb scripts from Debbie Horsfield (I have just finished reading them) and a tremendous first tranche of principal casting.

I am cast as Dr. Halse–the clergyman with whom Ross shares the coach on his journey home to Nampara from Truro in the opening scene of the first series. Back then, a benign figure–in the new series he comes over as rather less so!

I fear I’ll be exchanging the marvelous leather coat and boots for drab, black church cloth and a sneer.

Joining the Cornish establishment that Ross so despises (though he was born into it) will be a challenge!

Joining the new Poldark will be exciting–but also poignant for me, bringing back many wonderful memories of 40 years ago.

Not least in my mind will be fellow members of the original cast–especially those no longer with us: the beloved Angharad Rees, Ralph Bates, Richard Morant, Frank Middlemas, Paul Curran and Mary Wimbush.

I’ll be there for their memory–and for the late Winston Graham–as well as for the intriguing prospect of acting with the new cast to help bring this wonderful saga to a new audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The first asparagus spears were on the stalls at Castres market on Saturday at 9 euros /kilo– steep I thought–wait a week or two and down they’ll come.

Then last night Meredith and our friends Tamsin and Stephen–here for a weekend visit–returned from the annual Réalmont Agicultural Foire (fair).

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Deciding our garden was on the small side for this magnificent specimen;

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they settled instead for a large box of oversize strawberries,

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and a couple of bunches of Spanish grown asparagus!

OK–a starter for our hazelnut pasta supper last night!

I roasted all but ten spears–thinking lunch today– with thyme and olive oil.

It was good to have it confirmed that the asparagus season is about to start but the spears from over the border were not as tasty as the locals will be in a couple of weeks.

Lunch today then.

I’m poaching a couple of eggs each and laying them on top of the remaining asparagus for the yolks to break beautifully and Spring-like–yellow on fresh green–over them and make a superb light lunch with a salad.

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Heat the oven to 220C/430F

Arrange the spears in a single layer on a shallow oven tray.

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Pour a little olive oil over the tips and sprinkle some salt and fresh thyme .

Slide the tray onto the top oven rack and roast for 10 minutes–test for doneness.

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Arrange equal portions on two plates.

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add a tablespoon of red/white vinegar–this helps gather the egg white.

Break the eggs into the water trying not to burst their yokes.

They’ll be ready to take out in about three minutes–depending on the thickness of the spears..

Carefully remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and drain them.

Place them decoratively on the asparagus and season with a little salt and pepper.

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We went back to the same voting hall to follow the count last night.

We found a crowd milling outside…

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close-packed and tense in the room.

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It feels timeless–only the clothes people are wearing defines the century we are in.

Two tables, fenced off with barriers, on either side of the room with four tellers seated round each.

People hanging over the barriers listening intently to the low mumbling of the tellers announcing each vote.

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Bardou, Bardou, Bardou, Gros, Bardou, Gro and on and on…

The atmosphere is charged, expectant.

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People greeting each other with brief handshakes, a quick double kiss. Few conversations ensue.

The incumbent Mayor, Monsieur Gros, the only person in the room wearing a suit, paces back and forth between the tables, occasionally disappearing into a side room with a pile of blue envelopes. Displacement activity–something to do while he waits with the rest of us for the tellers to complete their task.

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Bardou, Bardou, Gros…

It is surprising how long it takes to count just over a thousand votes.

I’m unaware that a third count has happened at the school below the village and the result has filtered back up to the crowd gathered outside the hall.

I am feeling increasingly pessimistic and the expression on M Gros’ face does nothing to reassure me.

It’s hot in the room–fetid even.

As I turn to open a window the woman standing next to me shakes her head and I remain rooted to the spot not daring to break the tension and pull the focus–if only briefly–my way.

I ask her if she can point out M Bardou to me.

His family tomb is in the cemetery adjacent to the house and I know he is the chef/owner of a restaurant just up the road but I have never met him.

“There, with his back to the door” she says, pointing out a tall man wearing spectacles huddled by the exit–looking pale and nervous.

Neither side is acting as though it’s in the bag.

After half an hour, our friend Sylvie squeezes past me–she’s been monitoring the table to my right.

She shakes her head–”c’est cuit!” (It’s cooked i.e. lost).

“The count at the school below went M. Bardou’s way by over 30 votes and here it’s neck and neck but there won’t be enough votes for M.Gros to turn it.”

I edge my way out of the room and into the street where Meredith confirms what Sylvie has told me.

M. Bardou has won–he got out the vote.

Lautrec will have a new mayor–after twelve years.

A 92% turn out is impressive–local democracy at work.

Spring is in the air–it’s April the first tomorrow.

A time of change and transition.

 

 

 

 

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We are heading up to Lautrec to do our civic duty and vote in the second round of les municipals–the local elections–to elect the mayor who will serve the village with his team for the next six years.

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The first round last Sunday ended in a sensational dead heat (egalité) between the two contesting “lists“–512 votes apiece–so a second round plays out today.

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According to our friend, Myriam, this was national headline news on French TV, radio and the newspapers. Only one other village in France, Dannemarie in Haute-Rhin, voted a tie.

Turnout in Lautrec was an impressive 85%!

Every vote counts in a small village–and unfortunately as we were still in the States, we weren’t able to vote in the first round.

We had tried to arrange to vote by proxy–the French system of absentee voting–but when we turned up at the gendarmerie as instructed, it was closed, with no notice posted about when it might be open or how we could proceed.

Dommage!

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Second time lucky!

Though not French citizens, we are entitled to vote in local elections, though not in national ones–despite paying  taxes here. Makes no sense to me, even less to Meredith–proud citizen of a country that fought its way to independence to escape paying taxes without representation.

There are 37,000 mayors in France and they wield real power.

They have a tendency to run and run, as there is no term limit. When we arrived here in 1990, the mayor,  the local doctor, had been in  place for over forty years!

The voting today ends at 6pm and we’ll go watch the  count in the village hall.

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A toute a l’heure, alors!

 

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Question for Robin & Meredith: What do you guys have for breakfast? The cookbooks don’t mention anything and I’m curious. ~Maire Martello (on Facebook)

Good excuse to re-post this:

“To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.” ~W. Somerset Maugham

“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.” ~John Gunther

“Oysters are the usual opening to a winter breakfast. Indeed, they are almost indispensable.”
~Grimod de la Reyniere (1758-1838)

“Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast table.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

“Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” ~Oscar Wilde

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” I’m sure my mother said that a few times!

Breakfast before I set off on my walk this morning was the same as every morning (and no sign of an oyster)!

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large organic oat flakes mixed with

freshly cracked walnuts–watch out for rogue pieces of shell that crack your teeth.

a dried untreated apricot–chopped

a teaspoon of linseeds

a prune,

half a pot of low fat organic yogurt

cinnamon–sprinkled on top

and moistened with oat/almond milk–unsweetened.

Two slices of 100% rye bread with a little butter and pear & apple fruit spread (no added sugar)

The same every morning? Yes!

Dull?

Not for me–I look forward to it–once a day at least!

Maybe we are at our most conservative, most in need of ritual just after waking up, but I find the assembling and eating of this bowl of goodies a daily delight.

Meredith’s version of breakfast heaven:

Porridge (cooked oats–large and small flakes), milk, “no fat” organic yogurt, a prune, seasonal fruit, cinnamon sprinkled over.

 

 

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